A Nation of Enemies

The title of this post is hyperbolic, but it is nearer today’s truth than was Lincoln’s assertion at the end of his first inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

The United States of 1861 was genetically and culturally close-knit by comparison to the genetically and culturally fractured nation of today. It is impossible to turn the clock back. We must accept the United States for what it is — a fractured nation dominated by a powerful, intrusive central government.

That government’s vast power, by the way, stems largely from Lincoln’s prosecution of the Civil War. The North’s victory in that war paved the way for the demise of the constitutional order  — a strictly limited central government responsible to States that still possessed most governmental power. Decentralization made it easier for citizens to control the degree to which governments could prey on them. And it made voting with one’s feet a real option, even in that age when inter-State mobility was an arduous and risky proposition.